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¡¡¡¡ Let us turn back,--that is one of the story-teller's rights,-- and
put ourselves once more in the year 1815, and even a little earlier than
the epoch when the action narrated in the first part of this book took
¡¡¡¡If it had not rained in the night between the 17th and the 18th of
June, 1815, the fate of Europe would have been different. A few drops of
water, more or less, decided the downfall of Napoleon. All that
Providence required in order to make Waterloo the end of Austerlitz was a
little more rain, and a cloud traversing the sky out of season sufficed
to make a world crumble.
¡¡¡¡The battle of Waterloo could not be begun until half-past eleven
o'clock, and that gave Blucher time to come up.
¡¡¡¡Because the ground was wet.
¡¡¡¡The artillery had to wait until it became a little firmer before they
could manoeuvre.
¡¡¡¡Napoleon was an artillery officer, and felt the effects of this. The
foundation of this wonderful captain was the man who, in the report to
the Directory on Aboukir, said:
¡¡¡¡Such a one of our balls killed six men.
¡¡¡¡All his plans of battle were arranged for projectiles. The key to his
victory was to make the artillery converge on one point. He treated the
strategy of the hostile general like a citadel, and made a breach in it.
¡¡¡¡He overwhelmed the weak point with grape-shot; he joined and
dissolved battles with cannon.
¡¡¡¡There was something of the sharpshooter in his genius.
¡¡¡¡To beat in squares, to pulverize regiments, to break lines, to crush
and disperse masses,--for him everything lay in this, to strike, strike,
strike incessantly,-- and he intrusted this task to the cannon-ball. A
redoubtable method, and one which, united with genius, rendered this
gloomy athlete of the pugilism of war invincible for the space of fifteen
¡¡¡¡On the 18th of June, 1815, he relied all the more on his artillery,
because he had numbers on his side.
¡¡¡¡Wellington had only one hundred and fifty-nine mouths of fire;
Napoleon had two hundred and forty.
¡¡¡¡Suppose the soil dry, and the artillery capable of moving, the action
would have begun at six o'clock in the morning. The battle would have
been won and ended at two o'clock, three hours before the change of
fortune in favor of the Prussians. What amount of blame attaches to
Napoleon for the loss of this battle? Is the shipwreck due to the pilot?
¡¡¡¡Was it the evident physical decline of Napoleon that complicated this
epoch by an inward diminution of force?
¡¡¡¡Had the twenty years of war worn out the blade as it had worn the
scabbard, the soul as well as the body?
¡¡¡¡Did the veteran make himself disastrously felt in the leader?
¡¡¡¡In a word, was this genius, as many historians of note have thought,
suffering from an eclipse?
¡¡¡¡Did he go into a frenzy in order to disguise his weakened powers from
himself? Did he begin to waver under the delusion of a breath of
adventure? Had he become--a grave matter in a general--unconscious of
peril? Is there an age, in this class of material great men, who may be
called the giants of action, when genius grows short-sighted? Old age has
no hold on the geniuses of the ideal; for the Dantes and Michael Angelos
to grow old is to grow in greatness; is it to grow less for the Hannibals
and the Bonapartes?
¡¡¡¡Had Napoleon lost the direct sense of victory?
¡¡¡¡Had he reached the point where he could no longer recognize the reef,
could no longer divine the snare, no longer discern the crumbling brink
of abysses?
¡¡¡¡Had he lost his power of scenting out catastrophes?
¡¡¡¡He who had in former days known all the roads to triumph, and who,
from the summit of his chariot of lightning, pointed them out with a
sovereign finger, had he now reached that state of sinister amazement
when he could lead his tumultuous legions harnessed to it, to the
precipice? Was he seized at the age of forty-six with a supreme madness?
Was that titanic charioteer of destiny no longer anything more than an
immense dare-devil?
¡¡¡¡We do not think so.
¡¡¡¡His plan of battle was, by the confession of all, a masterpiece. To
go straight to the centre of the Allies' line, to make a breach in the
enemy, to cut them in two, to drive the British half back on Hal, and the
Prussian half on Tongres, to make two shattered fragments of Wellington
and Blucher, to carry Mont-Saint-Jean, to seize Brussels, to hurl the
German into the Rhine, and the Englishman into the sea. All this was
contained in that battle, according to Napoleon. Afterwards people would
¡¡¡¡Of course, we do not here pretend to furnish a history of the battle
of Waterloo; one of the scenes of the foundation of the story which we
are relating is connected with this battle, but this history is not our
subject; this history, moreover, has been finished, and finished in a
masterly manner, from one point of view by Napoleon, and from another
point of view by a whole pleiad of historians.[7]
¡¡¡¡ [7] Walter Scott, Lamartine, Vaulabelle, Charras, Quinet, Thiers.
¡¡¡¡ As for us, we leave the historians at loggerheads; we are but a
distant witness, a passer-by on the plain, a seeker bending over that
soil all made of human flesh, taking appearances for realities,
perchance; we have no right to oppose, in the name of science, a
collection of facts which contain illusions, no doubt; we possess neither
military practice nor strategic ability which authorize a system; in our
opinion, a chain of accidents dominated the two leaders at Waterloo; and
when it becomes a question of destiny, that mysterious culprit, we judge
like that ingenious judge, the populace.

? Victor Hugo

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